52 Faces of Community: Ross Hardeman
From New Bern Sun Journal
By Holly Desrosier, August 17, 2020
Congratulations to our Sumrell Sugg colleague and attorney Ross Hardeman, who has been featured in the New Bern Sun Journal's 52 Faces of Community, a group of 52 volunteers & unsung heroes who are honored for making a difference in this community. Ross is a New Bern native who returned to the area in 2016 to practice law in the areas of local government representation, civil litigation, real estate and estate planning. In addition, Ross is very active in the local community with the Young Professionals Group, the New Bern Preservation Foundation, the Great Trent River Raft Race and more.
Local attorney and native New Bernian Ross Hardeman has immense pride for his hometown. His community involvement for the past few years has enabled him to transition from an observer to an active contributor, following the example of those before him while also leaving his own mark. “My philosophy in life is to not take myself too seriously and try to leave people better than how I found them,” said Ross.
He left for UNC-Chapel Hill in 2009 and then went to law school at Campbell University in 2013. While at Campbell, he participated in pro bono projects to benefit veterans, domestic violence victims and the elderly. He assisted with a senior law clinic to help people who couldn’t afford the services of an attorney to get estate planning documents in place. He also helped with estate planning details before deployments, and he helped domestic violence victims go through the process of procuring protective orders and speaking up for them if they were too scared or intimidated.
“That was really helpful and really gave me some practical experience before coming home to them,” said Ross. “I really, really enjoyed my time at Campbell and was glad I had those service-related opportunities.”
He passed the bar exam in the summer of 2016, returned to New Bern and was offered a job as an associate attorney at Sumrell Sugg. He jumped at the chance to start a career he had dreamed of since childhood. Ross’ primary practice areas include local government representation, civil litigation, real estate and estate planning. He recently helped a couple from another city with a real estate closing for a home in New Bern, and he noted how much he enjoyed having the opportunity to help shape their first impression of the city.
“I don’t take that lightly,” he said. “I think that’s really, really neat. It’s kind of corny and cheesy, but I just always thought it’d be cool being part of this centuries-old system where people go to have their rights protected or adjust their grievances, their disputes, and being able to help people through that, going to bat for them and advocating.”
Ross has had the unique opportunity to observe and engage in his community as a young child, adolescent, and now as a young adult. This has made a profound impact on his drive for community improvement, especially after leaving the area and gaining an outside angle.
“It was interesting having that perspective from growing up as a kid here to come back as an adult,” he said. “As a kid, you kind of consume what everyone sets up for you. I wanted to really take part in giving that back and actually doing the work and organizing to set things up on the other side of that fence too.”
Ross has been active with several organizations since his return. Although he often discovers that he is the youngest person in the room, he doesn’t let that stop him from participating, sharing his point of view and taking in the processes.
“I like to think I contribute on boards, but I think one of the coolest things is I just have a front row seat to see some of the best people in New Bern doing what they do all the time,” he said.
One of the first nonprofits he joined was the Young Professionals Group, an initiative of the New Bern Chamber of Commerce aimed at creating a meaningful networking organization for young professionals ages 21-40 in Craven County.
“This is my third and final year on the board, and that’s been really rewarding,” said Ross. “I think the biggest accomplishment we’ve had as a board and with the help of previous boards is we managed to endow a scholarship at Craven Community College. Being able to help someone make education more affordable, keep people here locally, train them with skills that are needed in the local economy—it’s all great.”
Another project he’s helped with is the Great Trent River Raft Race, an annual community event in which people make homemade rafts, race them and just have a fun time together on the river. Ross has served on the committee for three years, and he believes it’s a great way to get people together while also helping to boost interest in the area as the event has seen turnouts of several thousand people. They have various vendors, food, crafts, local artists, musical performances and children’s activities to make sure it’s fun for all ages. They also emphasize water safety and have a sizable law enforcement presence, as well as a safety committee.
“It really is just trying to give people a place to take their kids and have some fun and take advantage of our rivers, which are probably the most beautiful, valuable, natural asset around here,” he said.
In 2018, Ross joined the Salvation Army advisory board just weeks before Hurricane Florence hit. “And so it was really incredible right off the bat, seeing how groups like that respond to disasters, but even also just seeing the work in non-disaster times that they do that doesn’t get the same publicity every day,” he said.
Ross takes part in bell ringing around Christmastime, as well as the Angel Tree program that provides gifts for children whose families can’t afford them. He has enjoyed learning about the many resources that are available, especially ones that aren’t widely known, so he can share them with people who may benefit from them. He has also tried to dissipate the stigma associated with needing those resources, which is something the board has helped him become more aware of and sensitive to.
Earlier this year, he joined the New Bern Preservation Foundation’s Board of Directors. Just as he had grown up interested in law, he also had a keen interest in history.
“Growing up, my dad and my grandparents instilled in me a real interest in history that ranges from American and international, but also locally,” said Ross. “My grandma would take me all over town to the various historical houses or sites or battlefields—you name it. I really got to love not only growing up here but fascinated with where New Bern’s been.”
He has appreciated learning more about his hometown’s history, especially developing an emphasis on preserving local African American history and the contributions of the African American community. One project they’ve started is the restoration of King Solomon Lodge in downtown New Bern, which was the first African American Masonic Lodge in North Carolina.
Ross is also active with Trinity United Methodist Church and served a three-year term on the church governing council upon his return. He felt honored to be raised in that church and then come back years later to take part in the decision making and seeing all the processes that go along with it.
He just got married in January and looks forward to raising his own family in his beloved hometown. He believes it’s important to spend time with people who think differently and challenge his viewpoints, allowing him greater insight and a greater ability to make a difference in the community.
“I think things I care about — the charitable side, economic development and community activity, and then historic preservation — kind of hits on my interests and it’s fulfilling,” said Ross. “And I think it’s good way to give back.”